WOUNDED WARRIOR ASSISTANCE ACT OF 2007
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Mr. BACA. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of H.R. 1538, the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act.
I voted against this war 5 years ago and believe we should never have gone into Iraq.
But as a veteran, I stand by our troops and am committed to supporting all of our troops--before, during and after service.
There are 32,000 wounded soldiers from the Iraq conflict alone and they need medical attention and assistance to get back on their feet.
However, our veteran healthcare system that is in shambles. Internal reports, the media, and Congressional hearings are revealing the same kind of problems across the board--chronic under-funding, neglect, improper conduct, and lack of accountability.
There will be hundreds of thousands of veterans who will need care over the next decade as they return from Iraq, Afghanistan and other fronts in the Global War on Terror.
And our military and veterans healthcare systems are not prepared. Unless we act now, the situation will fall apart.
The recent tragedies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center underscore the urgency of the issue and the hardships faced by our military families across the country.
Mr. Chairman, I recently visited our returning veterans at Walter Reed Medical Center and as I spoke to these men and women and listened to their stories, I was almost brought to tears.
They told me of doctors who weren't giving them the attention they needed. Others shared how they had to prove to the medical staff that they were really injured.
One wounded soldier and his father in particular really struck a chord in me. This young man is from my home state of California and he told me how his father completely shut down his business, packed his things, and flew 3,000 miles across the country to make sure his son got the proper support and attention.
As if this brave soldier's sacrifice wasn't enough. Now his family has to put their lives on hold to ensure that he recuperates fully from his battle wounds.
After my visit, I took a long time to think and reflect on what I had seen. And really at the end of the day, all could think was that it just wasn't fair.
This young man is one of the lucky ones. His family could afford to make that sacrifice.
But what about the countless military families who are barely making ends meet and simply can't afford to quit their jobs?
Mr. Chairman, the bottom line is the American people shouldn't have to do these things.
We're fighting all over the world to spread democracy and peace at the expense of these young men and women and their families.
And yet what kind of example are we setting for the rest of world when we don't honor those who bear the scars of battle?
Veterans and military healthcare is one of the most neglected programs in this country.
It is immoral, it is embarrassing, and it is just plain irresponsible.
We have a duty as a government to take care of each and every soldier who has been injured in the line of duty in defense of our great Nation.
H.R. 1538 takes a step in the right direction by comprehensively examining the cracks in military healthcare and fixing them.
The Wounded Warrior Assistance Act reduces the caseloads of our medical case managers so service members and their families get help when they need it.
It also creates a system of patient advocates for outpatient wounded service members so that they get the right treatment.
The bill also establishes a toll-free hot line so that service members and their families have someplace to turn to when they see neglect or improper conduct.
We're also going to look at the training all of our military healthcare employees get from top to bottom. We're going to make sure the people who are treating and working with our troops and veterans have the right tools and information to give them the best service possible.
The bill also creates an Army Wounded Warrior Battalion pilot program to track active-duty soldiers in ``outpatient status'' who still require medical care.
H.R. 1538 will also look at overhauling the disability evaluation process. Average disability claims take a year and appeals are taking about two years to process. We have an enormous backlog of claims within the VA system and we need to fix the problem immediately.
Finally, we're going to help our troops better transition from military healthcare systems to veterans' healthcare systems. The transition will include an official handoff between the two systems with the electronic transfer of all medical and personnel records before the member leaves active duty so that there are no gaps in coverage or service.
The American people have already paid too high a price for this war. 3,233 soldiers have died in Iraq, including 10 men from my own district.
We need this bill to ensure that we honor the sacrifices of all our troops and their families by at the very least providing quality, timely healthcare.
That's why I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 1538.
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